Eastern Eye: Baroness Warsi tribute to Margaret Thatcher
An icon, a stalwart and a revolutionary, Baroness Thatcher turned Britain’s fortunes around at a moment when we needed her most.
As a working-class Muslim girl from West Yorkshire, she became my political inspiration – my idol.
The daughter of a grocer showed that anything was possible. Her story of social mobility struck a real chord with so many of Britain’s ethnic minority communities.
The odds were always stacked against Margaret Hilda Roberts. But she showed that hard work, determination and steadfastness trump circumstances.
Her biggest influence was her father, Alfred Roberts. “I owe everything to my father,” she once said. “He brought me up to believe all the things I do believe.”
It was his traditional, British values – of freedom and fairness, hard work and common sense, responsibility and the importance of family – upon which the conviction of this self-proclaimed ‘conviction politician’ was based.
But Mrs Thatcher, as she was then, didn’t just show people they could get on in life; she enabled them to do so.
Think of the number of British Asians that have been able to buy their own homes, set up their own businesses – as my father did – and build a better life for themselves, thanks to her policies.
She truly recognised the unique contribution Britain’s disapora communities. As she said when she opened the Ismaeli Centre in 1985: “Britain is now, more than ever, a multicultural society.
“We need not be afraid that these new influences will somehow threaten the ‘British way of life’: on the contrary, a new resilience derived from diversity can only strengthen Britain.”
I often cite these words today when I argue that our secret weapon in the global race – in which we are pitted against the world’s rapidly expanding economies – are the races from around the globe which make up our diverse nation.
The growing resilience Britain derives from its diversity – in business, in the arts, in public services, in technology – is something of which I know Mrs Thatcher would be proud.
Of course there are many, many reasons why her decade-defining career will be celebrated, not least for the dignity in which she held herself on the international scene.
Many people talk about the Falklands, but for me another key moment was her foresight on the Balkans conflict.
I hope she will be particularly remembered for her brave and bold stance on the events of Bosnia in the 1990s.
As early as 1992 she was crying out for international action, arguing that a massacre of the Bosniaks in the besieged territories was only a matter of time.
In her article for the New York Times – entitled ‘Stop the Excuses. Help Bosnia Now’ – she argued: ‘Hesitation has already proved costly. The matter is urgent. There are perhaps a few weeks left for a serious initiative before it is too late and a Serb victory is accomplished, with terrible long-term consequences.’
Sadly, with the horrific events in the town of Srebrenica in 1995, when 8,000 men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serbs, she was proved correct. It was yet another moment in which she was right.
Last year, when we celebrated the contribution of British Ugandan Asians, 40 years after their expulsion, I remember hearing about the photograph of the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, hanging proudly above these families’ fireplaces.
For me, and for many British Asians, the image of Mrs Thatcher will also take pride of place.